How to Be More Productive with 3 Simple Folders


Have you ever wanted a simple organizational system that could greatly enhance your productivity?

Some time ago I read the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. While I won’t give a full review of the book here, I will say that it was definitely motivating and encouraged me to set up a system to become more organized.

If you’re like me, I’m sure you’ve been overwhelmed by the number of projects you have going on at times. The feeling of too-many-things-not-enough-time can be paralyzing. Even when you do find the time to work on projects, you just stare blankly at your to-do list and end up feeling unproductive if you don’t finish it.

One of the things that David Allen suggests in his book is to create a set of manila folders that you can use to become even more productive. Those three folders are labeled:

  • Projects
  • Waiting For
  • Reference

The Project Folder

I created one main folder labeled projects and created sub-folders with project names. As I gather notes and other documents that will be used in the project, I store it away in the individual project folder. While this may seem over-simplified, it actually works.

Think about how you keep track of projects right now. Do you have a stack of papers or a few pages of notes in a notebook set aside for a project? What’s typically happened to me was that I would keep notes and project ideas in a spiral notebook, but the pages would get pushed back and ideas would get mixed together. It would be weeks before I got back to a new idea and the cycle would continue.

Having a set of project folders to keep every little note and idea helps you to not only clear your mind of new ideas, it also lets you reference every project really quickly. At a moment’s notice, you can see what projects you have going on and glance into the project folder to see what you have gathered. If anything, it’ll simply make you feel better because you don’t have to sift through pages and pages to find one thought you wrote down about a certain project – you’ll just look into that specific folder.

The Waiting For Folder

Just as it sounds, the waiting for folder keeps track of documents, notes, papers, forms or anything that requires further action from someone else. Previously, my waiting for folder was a little corner on my desk. I’d keep it in the open because I didn’t want to forget about it and because I really didn’t have a place for it.

Now, just like my project folders, I can look down and remind myself of the three to four items that I’m ‘waiting for’ someone else to work on. The ability to delegate tasks is a great skill to have, but just as important is to be organized with tracking those tasks. By keeping them on my desk in front of me every day, I was subconsciously letting it occupy my attention when it needed to be cleared from my mind. If there is nothing you can do at that moment to speed things up, don’t let it consume your thoughts and slow you down on things that you can be doing right now!

The Reference Folder

Remember that notebook with ideas and sticky notes that I used to remember random thoughts? You might be able to relate, huh? The problem with my old system (really no system at all) was that all the side thoughts, inspiring articles, cool quotes, handy charts, and every other random thing would get lost or shuffled in with other papers never to be found when I needed it most!

By creating a reference folder I can keep all the random things that I feel compelled to save all in one place. That way, I only have to sift through maybe a dozen pieces of information to find a chart I set aside, as opposed to looking all around my office for it.

These three folders may seem like nothing special, but they really have helped in keeping me organized. If you have a lot of projects going on at work or at home, I think you’ll really benefit from this system. What do you have to lose by setting up a three-folder system to keep track of projects and other things that are happening with your life?

Do you have a system in place to keep you on track with your projects? Share it with us in the comments!

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  1. Kostas

    This is an excellent suggestion! I do my best to keep things organized and using these different folders could help me improve my skills. I wager I’ll end up saving time and money in the long run as well.

  2. Krista

    It’s funny how these ‘folders’ already exist in my life just not in any sort of intentional way. Like you I designated these things on different parts of my desk but didn’t really take time to think of creating actual folders for them. Especially the ‘waiting for’ folder. Brilliant.

  3. Jim

    Great post Tim. I hadn’t ever thought of this organizational tool, but I know I need something! Seems easy enough, and hey if it is constantly in front of you, then you are more inclined to complete those tasks. Thanks for the share!

  4. Sally Moore

    You could do the same with emails you don’t want to delete. My best email management tactic is to have a 30-day folder to hold emails for a short time when they will then be deleted without having to be reviewed again.

  5. Kiki @ Choosing to Cherish

    This is very helpful. Thank you! I will label my file organizer this way.

  6. Peter

    I love Dave Allen’s book. This foldering system is very powerful indeed. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Sandra

    My entire life is in 3-ring notebooks…it’s the best way I’ve found for keeping everything straight. I like this 3 folder system for the immediate and will implement asap. Thanks!

  8. Cora

    So much of what I do is on computer. What are your thoughts on setting this up on computer as opposed to paper files?